The private sector: A partner in global health security and universal health coverage

Name, Jeffrey Sturchio Jeffrey L. Sturchio
14 February 2018
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Source: Management Sciences for Health/Warren Zelman

I have been working in global health for more than 25 years, in a variety of roles in the research-based pharmaceutical industry, in leadership positions in non-governmental organizations (including the Global Health Council, the BroadReach Institute for Training and Education (BRITE), and the Corporate Council on Africa), and today as head of a global health strategy firm that works at the intersection of public health and private industry to help advance the health of millions around the world. Through these experiences, I’ve observed the private sector become a progressively more prominent actor in global health in recent decades, on issues as diverse as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and increasingly, non-communicable diseases and global health security.[1] Historically, industry has largely provided monetary and in-kind contributions to support public health programs, but over the years, that model has shifted dramatically, with many companies lending their expertise, capabilities, and other resources to drive progress on important global health issues.

Three years ago, during the height of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, the global community witnessed the power of the private sector as a partner in tackling the massive challenges of an acute health emergency.

The PSRT of the GHSA was created in 2015 by the Chief Medical Officers of Johnson & Johnson and the GE Foundation in response to the need for multisectoral engagement to prevent, detect, and respond to emerging health threats and to build resilient national systems to prepare for such threats. The PSRT embodies the spirit of whole-of-society cooperation to strengthen global health security, not least by mobilizing industry to support countries in addressing gaps revealed by their JEEs by peer countries in the GHSA. Further, the PSRT understands that global health security is intrinsically a cross-disciplinary field that requires the expertise of many sectors, including health care, logistics, and supply chain management, energy, and data and analytics, among others.   For example, Intel Corporation and Qlik are critical partners because technology is an essential component of collecting, analyzing, and communicating real-time data and bringing virtual technical assistance where it is needed. The logistics companies, such as UPS, that deliver commercial goods to our homes can apply those same skills to deliver essential supplies during health crises. Working together as a coalition, the PSRT has been able to engage key stakeholders in the public sector and civil society and amplify the contribution of the private sector across different industries.

The GHSA, instrumental in bringing 60 countries together to combat disease threats, has welcomed the private sector and other prospective partners to join the discussion through the JEE Alliance, led jointly by Finland and Australia.[2] As a result, PSRT companies have been better able to understand country-level needs and glean insights on how they can most effectively support efforts already under way. They have consulted with government stakeholders to align priorities, listen, and engage in a for- ward-thinking way. Other global health initiatives would do well to emulate the GHSA model of engagement of the private sector and other partners to support broader health systems strengthening and advance progress toward achieving universal health coverage (UHC), a critical element of the Sustainable Development Goals.

At its core, UHC protects people from catastrophic financial ruin because of seeking health services. Most important, it seeks to enable greater access to health care services to the working poor and the middle class who can neither afford out-of-pocket costs, nor be eligible for government subsidies.

Since taking office, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has rightly brought UHC to the fore of global health policy. UHC can be a powerful tool in the global health security arsenal in that it fosters health systems strengthening and with it the prevention and early detection of emerging health threats—two major tenets of GHSA. As Dr. Tedros has observed, global health security and UHC “are two sides of the same coin.”[3]  Given that preventing epidemics costs far less than responding to them, investing in health security makes economic sense—not just for countries, but also for businesses. UHC brings with it economic dividends, job creation, and increased workforce productivity, along with an uninterrupted cadence of commerce. These are all areas that are important to companies that work in or are contemplating further investment in geographic regions at risk of pandemics or other emerging health crises. Robust public-private partnerships to strengthen health system preparedness are good for society and good for business.

Beyond their impact on morbidity and mortality, epidemics also pose a major toll on the economy, which highlights the interdependence of health and wealth in every society. Aside from the absolute cost of epidemic response, health crises can cause major disruptions to the day-to-day functioning of an enterprise. From sick employees to broken supply chains, businesses big and small across sectors can be affected. Indeed, smaller businesses with narrow margins are least able to sustain these stressors to the bottom line. Because a country’s health budget is reliant on its overall economic stability, these are very real concerns for both the public and the private sectors.[4]

As we think about the next phase of the GHSA, engaging finance ministers to understand and plan for the impact of global health security and UHC to long-term economic development will be important to secure enhanced resources for health. While they may not be well versed in the nuances of epidemic control, they will understand the worrisome impact of diseases disrupting economic stability and growth. The local private sector can be a powerful ally in this effort. This not only includes local affiliates of multinational corporations, but more important, prominent domestic businesses that provide the backbone of national and regional economic growth.

Finally, it’s important to remember that countries are in the driver’s seat. It is incumbent on countries to develop national strategies and action plans that set out clear priorities for strengthening health security and adopt national consultation processes to engage a wide range of public and private sector partners to address some of the gaps. With continued collaboration, coordination and open communication, the private sector in all of its diversity can become an even more central partner in securing health around the world.

Reprinted with permission from Management Sciences for Health.

Note: This article appeared in the Conference Proceedings of Ready Together: A Conference on Epidemic Preparedness, where Jeff Sturchio served as a member of the advisory board.

Together with No More Epidemics, the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Harvard Medical School, Georgetown University Center for Global Health Science and Security and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and with generous support from the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation, MSH held the Ready Together Conference on Epidemic Preparedness on November 13, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ready Together brought together leading voices in health security, the private sector, global health financing, technology, and civil society to discuss the state of the world’s readiness to fight the next epidemic or pandemic. It attempted to find answers to the following questions: What are the financial, economic, and other risks to the private sector associated with major disease outbreaks, and what is being done to minimize risk and ensure resilience? What innovations have been developed for pandemic preparedness? How can a whole-of-society approach to collaboration be enhanced to ensure global health security? And how can we overcome barriers to ensure country engagement and leadership and maximize public private partnerships?


[1] “The private-sector role in public health: Reflections on the new global architecture in health,” with Akash Goel. A Report of the CSIS Project on U.S. Leadership in Development (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 2012). publication/120131_Sturchio_PrivateSectorRole_Web. pdf

[2] Global Health Security Agenda (Accessed 12/05/17) JEE Alliance (Accessed 11/29/2017) www.

[3] Ghebreyesus, Tedros  Adhanom.  “All roads lead to universal health coverage.” The Lancet, vol. 5, no. 9, 2017

[4] World Bank. 2017. From panic and neglect to investing in health security: financing pandemic preparedness at a national level. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group. 

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